UPDATE, 1:30 PM: A Sony spokesman has just responded to NATO’s letter from this morning, essentially saying there has never been an agreement about who bears what costs for in the 3D biz — but we can talk about it anyway.

There are constructive ways to deal with the cost of 3D glasses that will not adversely impact consumers, and can also help the environment.

NATO’s statement that it has been “understood” that distributors would always bear the cost of 3D glasses is incorrect, because there never has been any such agreement. In fact, we have been speaking with people in the industry for a long time about the need to move to a new model, so this certainly comes as a surprise to no one in the business.

We invite theater owners to engage in a collegial dialogue with us about this issue, including at ShowEast next month. By working together on a business-to-business basis, we are confident a reasonable solution can be reached that brings benefits to consumers, the entertainment industry and the environment.

PREVIOUS, 10:36 AM: The National Association of Theatre Owners has lashed back at Sony for the studio’s recent decision to stop providing 3D glasses to moviegoers. It’s not sitting well with the exhibitors’ group, which contends that there is an understanding that theaters would pay for the tech upgrades to their facilities and distributors would provide the glasses — NATO says any shift to that model is at least worth a phone call to discuss. Not to mention that if exhibition won’t absorb the cost, those who already have to cough up for premium-priced tickets to 3D movies will have to. Here’s the group’s statement; expect Sony to have a reply shortly.

(Washington, D.C. And North Hollywood, CA – September 28, 2011) Recent press reports indicate that Sony has decided to stop providing 3D glasses to consumers and wants moviegoers to buy their own glasses. NATO believes Sony’s suggestion is insensitive to our patrons, particularly in the midst of continuing economic distress. Sony’s actions raise serious concerns for our members who believe that provision of 3D glasses to patrons is well established as part of the 3D experience.

While each exhibition company must make its own decision as to how to handle its business arrangements and how to respond to this development, we are concerned that Sony’s attempt to change this business model would unilaterally upend long-standing industry practices. Since the onset of the digital 3D revolution in 2005 it has been understood that exhibitors would bear the weight of technological and facility modification costs related to 3D, while distribution took on the cost of 3D glasses. Any changes to that understanding must be undertaken through the mutual agreement of both sides of the business. The recent uproar over four studios’ unilateral decision to radically shorten the theatrical release window for their failed DirecTV premium VOD experiment vividly illustrates the downside of movie studios announcing fundamental changes to business models without negotiating with their exhibition partners first.

Sony would be well advised to revisit its decision.